Putin is promising a huge military turnout for the annual Victory Day parade in Red Square.
Even in the darkest days of the pandemic in 2020 Russia didn’t cancel Victory Day, its anniversary of the end of the second world war – it was just postponed. This year, the Kremlin promises a parade on May 9 with 11,000 servicemen and women plus 62 aeroplanes and 15 helicopters. Eight MiG-29s will form the letter Z, the symbol adopted by supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
This day of pride, which will mark the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, is seen by some observers as a propaganda tool for President Vladimir Putin’s government, which is drawing on history for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
And some fear that Putin will use this year’s celebratory occasion to ramp up war efforts.
As Victory Day approaches, some observers believe that the top brass, frustrated at the lack of progress in subduing Ukraine, will call for a push, and Putin will declare total war.
Some also worry that Putin may announce a mass mobilisation, calling able-bodied men into service. However, earlier rumours of martial law and conscription in March proved to be wrong.
Under Putin, Victory Day has become Russia’s central national holiday and veneration of the Soviet victory a cornerstone of his regime. Putin revived the military parades marking the holiday, and they have grown in size almost every year since 2014, becoming a showcase of Russian military might.
With the propaganda machines in top gear from both East and West, all we can do is focus on this historic day and what it meant to the liberation of Europe from the nazis.
The Great Patriotic War
For most Europeans, this conflict is called World War II. On the other hand, Japanese and Americans fought the Pacific War. But for the Russians, this war was the “Great Patriotic War“. It was the same war, but with different names, which began in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. The response to the attack came from the UK, which decided to fight back. Several countries joined shortly afterwards to fight against Germany. The war had begun.
The role of the Soviet Union
At the beginning of the war, the Soviet Union remained neutral under the agreements signed with Germany, which Hitler broke in 1941 when the Nazis began the invasion of the Soviet Union. At that time, two sides appeared. On one side were the Axis powers: Germany, Italy, Romania, Japan and Finland; and on the other side, the Allied countries: UK, USA, France, Soviet Union, Poland, Australia and Canada. In addition to those states, World War II influenced in one way or another most of the world, as only nine countries remained neutral throughout the conflict.
Hitler’s Germany began the war with significant victories and conquests, but the entry of the Soviet Union into the conflict was a decisive factor. Hitler lost two thirds of its military power trying to reach Moscow, which also explains the tremendous loss of civilian and military lives on the Soviet side. For years, Germany and the Soviet Army fought against each other in Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad.
Finally, in 1945, the Red Army reached Berlin, and the war ended. The generals from the Allies did not like this Russian move, but without it, there would have been a historical injustice for the Soviets who sacrificed an entire generation to achieve the final victory.
An estimated 27 million people from the Soviet Union died during the Second World War, an enormous death toll that dwarfs that of other countries, and memory of the war still holds deep personal significance for many Russians.
The Soviet people, who faced the most powerful assault of Nazi Germany and its accomplices, made a heroic and decisive contribution to the defeat of Nazism. Three-fourths of the German armed forces were crushed on the Soviet-German Front. The Red Army fully or partially liberated Ukraine, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, eastern regions of Yugoslavia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Denmark, north-eastern provinces of China and Korea and conquered Berlin.
The Great Victory came at cost of irreplaceable losses. According to official figures, the war took the lives of 26.6 million Soviet people. The damage done to the Soviet Union was greater than the combined damage inflicted on all other European countries.
However, the USSR didn’t stand alone in this fight. The Soviet Union and Russia, being its successor, always highly appreciated the contribution of the anti-Hitler coalition allies. Our country is eternally grateful to the peoples of Great Britain, the United States of America, France, anti-fascists of various countries and members of the underground resistance, including in Germany itself, who selflessly fought the common enemy.
With Berlin surrounded, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945. His named successor was Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz. During his brief spell as Germany’s president, Dönitz negotiated an end to the war with the Allies – whilst seeking to save as many Germans as possible from falling into Soviet hands.
A German delegation arrived at the headquarters of British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery at Lüneburg Heath, east of Hamburg, on 4 May. There, Montgomery accepted the unconditional surrender of German forces in the Netherlands, northwest Germany and Denmark. On 7 May, at his headquarters in Reims, France, Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower accepted the unconditional surrender of all German forces. The document of surrender was signed on behalf of Germany by General Alfred Jodl and came into effect the following day.
The German army High Command signed their surrender in Reims, France, before the Allied High Command. That day, representatives of the British and American High Command were present, and a representative of the Red Army named Ivan Susparoff. Susparoff tried to contact Russian General Zhukov to ask if the Soviet Union had to sign the document. He did not receive any reply and signed it together with the rest of the Allies. Thus, the war officially ended the following, May 8, 1945.
Zhukov, upon hearing the news got remarkably enraged. He had been the leader at Stalingrad, Leningrad, Moscow, and it was he who entered Berlin, and yet, the Germans were not signing the surrender before him. Zhukov informed the Allies that the Soviet Union considered the surrender of May 7 as partial, since it had not taken place before the head of the Red Army, making it possible that the Germans could continue fighting on the Eastern Front.
This possibility was a remote one, since the Soviets had shattered the German forces, and they were unable to keep on fighting. But Zhukov achieved his aim: the German General Keitel surrendered to Zhukov officially on May 9, 1945 in Berlin’s Karlshorst.
Dönitz’s also partially achieved his plan and millions of German soldiers surrendered to Allied forces, thereby escaping Soviet capture.
The first Victory Parade was held on June 24, 1945, and was led by Zhukov himself on a white horse. It is said that this honour was reserved for Stalin, but his quality as a rider was so bad that he fell from his horse during rehearsals and decided to follow the parade with the rest of the authorities.
Rise of the far-right
The Victory over Nazism remains a lesson that is relevant today, when there are still those who are trying to revive this abhorring ideology and rewrite history. Arguably for the Russians, the most vivid examples of neo-Nazism will be seen in Ukraine. The transformation of a country, whose people suffered huge losses during World War II, into a state where neo-Nazi formations now openly operate is beyond comprehension.
At the same time, monuments to liberator soldiers and the graves of fallen soldiers are being desecrated and destroyed in a number of European states.
Authorities in Berlin have banned Russian and Ukrainian flags from being flown near the city’s memorials this weekend as people commemorate the 77th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
“The act of remembering as well as the respect for memorials and monuments must be preserved against the background of Russia’s current war of aggression in Ukraine,” the Berlin police said in a statement on Friday. “The war must not be allowed to spill over into conflicts or disputes in Berlin beyond the democratic discourse.”
After the defeat of the Nazis, monuments were erected throughout Berlin to commemorate Soviet loss of life during the war. For example, the 12-meter-tall Soviet War Memorial in the eastern borough of Treptow shows a Soviet soldier breaking a swastika with his sword. Such monuments are expected to be popular gathering points this weekend for those who condemn the current war and those who defend it.